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Wade v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 3, 2019

CORRIE WADE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Corrie Wade, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of supplemental security income (SSI). This matter has been referred by United States District Judge Stephen P. Friot for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), 636(b)(3). The Commissioner filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 11], and both parties briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On October 2, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI. See AR 15. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 72, 103. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated August 4, 2017. AR 12-30. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 2, 2015, the application date. AR 17.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: “schizoaffective disorder, unspecified 7/1/2013; affective disorder; anxiety disorder; BMI 32.48 and BMI 29.69; disorder of the spine (scoliosis); vision loss (Right eye).” AR 18 (internal citations omitted).[2] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 20-22.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except with nonexertional limitations. [Plaintiff] can: lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; walk/stand up to 6 of 8 hours with normal breaks; and sit up to 6 of 8 hours. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and ladders, ropes or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can frequently balance (no cane is seen). [Plaintiff] can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; should avoid workplace hazards such as unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, open water and open flame. [Plaintiff] can perform tasks involving no vision in the right eye; and tasks involving no fine print when seeing with the left eye. [Plaintiff] can perform simple and routine tasks consistent with unskilled work, with relatively few changes in workplace task and processes. [Plaintiff] can have no more than occasional, superficial interaction with the general public (considered interaction that is brief, succinct, and task oriented). This person will do best working with things and data rather than with people.

         AR 22-25. The ALJ then found Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. AR 25. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-hospital cleaner, hand packager, dishwasher, mail sorter, hand packer, and laundry worker. AR 25-26. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 26.

         III. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it. Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IV. Claim Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff asserts the administrative record is not complete and the matter should be remanded. Specifically, the administrative record does not include an October 14, 2008 consultative examination, a record which is not directly referenced in the decision but was referenced in the state agency Disability Determination Explanations. AR 79, 94. Further, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erroneously gave the state agency psychological consultants' opinions great weight because those opinions were based, in part, on evidence not in the record. Plaintiff also contends the ...

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